Lori McKenna: Writing Songs About Tough Topics Without Getting Preachy Is ‘Part of the Job’
Lori McKenna may be best known as one of Nashville's most in-demand songwriters, but at the 2019 Americana Honors & Awards, she put on her artist hat. Before the show started, McKenna shared her excitement at getting to play during the big event; despite a few nerves, she was looking forward to performing alongside some close friends and collaborators.
"It's a little more nerve-wracking than your own show, perhaps, where you know the audience knows your songs and things like that. But no, it's great fun," she told The Boot. "It's really stepping out of the box for me. And collaborating with everybody else is really a great part of the community of Americana."
In addition to performing during the ceremony, McKenna was nominated twice in the category of Song of the Year. Not only was she up for the trophy for her solo song "People Get Old," but she was also nominated for her participation in "By Degrees," a massive collaboration helmed by Mark Erelli. A head-spinning list of Americana's A-listers came together to work on the latter track, including Sheryl Crow, Rosanne Cash, Anais Mitchell and Josh Ritter, in addition to McKenna.
Together, the seasoned collective of artists developed a song that examines the complex issue of gun violence in America. McKenna says that during the writing process of "By Degrees," she was impressed by Erelli's nuanced portrayal of what is, for many listeners, a hot-button issue.
"Mark wrote it in such a unique way, because he's not really judging anybody," she notes. "He's just sort of bringing to light a moment in time, what's happening to all of us."
From her own work, of course, she knows how difficult it can be to approach tough topics without coming across as too heavy-handed. "You have to watch yourself in songs and make sure that you're not being preachy, you're not being judgy," McKenna elaborates. "Sometimes you do end up down that road a little bit, and then you have to pull yourself back.
"But that's part of the job," she adds.